On November 13, the University of Oklahoma’s satellite campus in Arezzo will organize the town’s—and Tuscany’s—first edition of Take Back the Night. A recurring event on college and university campuses in the United States, TBTN’s mission as a 100 percent volunteer-run foundation is to highlight the prevailing issue of sexual violence and to encourage community members to actively take part in combating all forms of sexual abuse, through organizing marches through the streets, vigils, talks and other initiatives.

Take Back the Night in Arezzo will specifically focus on sexual assault and domestic abuse in Tuscany and all of Italy. Leanna Payton, Center Coordinator at the University of Oklahoma in Arezzo and a key figure in organizing the event, explained her inspiration for bringing TBTN to Italy: “University of Oklahoma’s {home campus} in Norman does Take Back the Night each semester. The office that organizes it there is called the Gender and Equality Center. We try to do several events in Arezzo that are similar to traditions in Norman. I saw the advertising for the OU Take Back the Night a few weeks ago, while the {hearings in the lead up to Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court} were occurring in the United States, and it made me think how unfortunate it is that we still need to do events like Take Back the Night, but how essential they are. We have to keep standing-up against sexual assault and violence and not be silent. There are also so many issues that occur in Arezzo and all over Italy, so we are focusing our efforts locally.”

The debates that gripped the United States, and the wider world at that, following Dr. Christine Blasey Ford coming forward to accuse then-nominee, now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of attempted rape at a party in 1982 when they were teenagers shone a light on what many women already know: sexual violence and harassment are common occurrences and coming forward about them is rarely a simple course of action to take. According to a 2015 study by ISTAT, Italy’s National Institute of Statistics, 6,788,000 women in Italy have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes, 26.4 percent of that being sexual in nature, while 653,000 have been raped and 746,000 have experienced an attempted rape. The existing difficulties involved in reporting these acts have additional complications for non-native Italians: Florence-based therapist Elizabeth Connolly, who frequently works with English-speaking sexual assault survivors, says that “a support system for expat women throughout the process of courageously coming forward to report a sexual assault is seriously lacking, which makes a traumatizing event further traumatizing, because it is so difficult to feel heard when there is not language support. An expat woman {...} has to actively reach out into the community and build her own support system throughout the healing and legal process.” In terms of long-term effects of such experiences, many women can suffer from self-harm, substance abuse, dissociation, depression and myriad other conditions as a result of their trauma.

While TBTN has been organizing events like the OU one for several decades, the timing for the inaugural Arezzo edition comes at a moment when openly speaking about one’s experiences is becoming increasingly more common, in the wake of the #MeToo movement (complemented by the Italian initiative #QuellaVoltaChe). What’s more, a shift in public willingness to believe survivors’ stories can also be seen, demonstrated by the mass mobilization throughout the U.S. during the Kavanaugh proceedings. When asked if Italians were similarly receptive and enthusiastic when they heard about the upcoming event, Payton said, “Fortunately, the organizations and locals we are working with have been supportive and understanding. I feel that some potential participants are hesitant, but everyone has been curious and agrees that such an event is important and necessary. We are working with several organizations to create the event: Oxfam Italia, Pronto Donna, Arcigay, and a local organization that works with sex trafficking victims.”

Offering further insight on Italian support for survivors, Connolly, speaking about some of her clients’ experiences, said, “Victims of sexual assault that I have supported have felt they were treated respectfully by the legal system, but one cannot count on this being the expected experience of all sexual assault victims.” Regarding the specific event in Arezzo, she added, “There needs to be a shift {away} from women having to “take back the night”. We need to raise our boys and educate our men that women equally “own” and have a right to safety in the night, a street and a city. Women should not have to “take back” anything.”

Take Back the Night in Arezzo will begin at 7pm with presentations and survivor stories at OUA in piazza San Francesco, followed by a rally and walk through the historic center. At 9pm, a candlelight vigil is planned in piazza San Jacopo. The event will conclude with an invitation to come to the OUA Rooney Family Center, where students will perform live piano music and time will be set aside to process the experience as a community. For more information, see the Take Back the Night Facebook event by OU in Arezzo.